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Old Greenhalgh’s Almanack

A damp Malcolm says goodbye to 2016, and predicts a fly-fishing bonanza in 2017

As 2016 recedes, what will 2017 bring?
As 2016 recedes, what will 2017 bring?

In my last blog, at the end of November, I described how much of 2016’s fly-fishing was badly affected by the weather.

There can be no doubt that climate change – global warming if you like – has occurred over the past 50 years. The statistics prove it. Save for hiccup years, such as 2010 and 2011 (that saw the death of my fig tree), the winters since 2000 have had fewer frosts and much less snow falling and lying than occurred in the 1960s when I was a youth and keeping a diary that recorded features such as winter weather. It is warmer, and with the warmth has come increased humidity and rain. Manchester, the nearest city to where I live and the rivers I fish, has an average annual rainfall of about 34 inches. 2016 is likely to see at least twice that amount (as I write on December 22, the total thus far is nearly 65 inches and some filthy weather associated with a storm called Barbara is forecast between now and New Year). This will be the third consecutive year with rain of about twice the average. Yet ...springs have been unusually cold in the past three years, and that has spoilt our spring trouting. Is a cold spring a sign of global warming?

So as we face 2017, will this increased warmth and rainfall continue? Will spring 2017 be dominated by chilly northerly winds? Will late summer and autumn be dominated by prolonged dry and warm spells, so that salmon anglers despair at the trickle in the river and the salmon held up, and possibly perishing, at sea because they cannot run into fresh water? Should we be pessimists?

NO! We must assume that averages when it comes to weather means that the trend will reverse and that this New Year we will have a nice, warm spring, with lots of big fly hatches on lakes and rivers, and the trout rising like billy-oh. Because there will not be excessive rainfall in spring, and the water will be nice and warm – but not too warm – grayling spawning success will be high so that, in late summer, the rivers will be stuffed with ‘shots’ (juvenile fish). Next summer will have just enough rainfall to bring in some summer salmon and encourage big runs of sea trout. The latter have been developing here in north-west England over the last few years as a consequence of the explosion of the herring stocks in the Irish Sea, for sea trout are very fond of eating whitebait, juvenile herrings. And then ...autumn 2017 will see a spate every ten days so that every back-end salmon (and it seems that most salmon now run in the back-end) can run when it wants to.

We also need a change in attitude, especially amongst those who fish for the 'king of fishes'. I am afraid that salmon anglers have become the most pessimistic of human beings, even worse than Brexit Remainers. They believe that, years ago, we could go down to the river, chuck out a fly, and a salmon would grab it immediately, or almost immediately. That is not so, certainly for the 1970s and 1980s on most rivers. In the 1980s and 1990s I caught a lot of salmon (relatively) in rivers like the Hodder, but those of us who did that fished, in September and October, every day we could, from dawn to dusk. I am sure that, if people put in such hours today, the salmon catch returns would be two, three or four times what they are now.

But what is we have a dry summer and autumn so we cannot catch salmon? I have reviewed Haynes Fly Fishing Manual for FF&FT. New out, and by our esteemed editor Mark Bowler, this is a guide to more than trout and salmon fishing. Our estuaries and bays are stuffed with mullet and sea bass. Off shore we have big shoals of mackerel. Our canals have pike and perch. What’s so special about salmon? Hook a big bass or mullet and you will know all about powerful fish. And a double-figure pike is the equal of a ten-pound salmon. What is so special about that salmon anyway? You will not be eating it, for you are going to put it back for conservation reasons.
So let us all make a New Year’s Resolution: We will be optimistic fly-fishers in 2017.

Now get out your fly boxes and tidy them up. Make a list of missing or not-enough essential flies. Flip though the books and past copies of FF&FT and look for flies that you must try in 2017. And get tying.
And a happy New Year.

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